“Big Brother,” the long-running reality TV classic, is a cultural phenomenon that has evolved from its origins as an instant hit in the late ’90s in the Netherlands to be exported and adapted worldwide. With over 20 years on the air, the show has produced over 500 seasons in more than 80 countries. Many reality shows are picked up and adapted abroad, but none has the universal resonance and translatable format of “Big Brother.”
The show’s concept of throwing together a diverse group of houseguests and constantly recording their interactions serves as a fascinating social window. The U.S. version of “Big Brother” premiered in 2000 when the national discourse was quite different. Now the show’s inclusion on major streaming services allows its 24 seasons to serve as a time capsule of American society over the past two decades.
This summer, “Big Brother” will air its 25th season, and long-time host Julie Chen Moonves will return to lead the show. Here’s why “Big Brother” is so enduring, everything we know about the upcoming season, and where to watch.
The Legacy of ‘Big Brother’
On “Big Brother,” between 12 and 16 houseguests are chosen to live in a purpose-made house that isolates them from the rest of the world and monitors their every move. Houseguests compete in weekly challenges and form alliances in an attempt to improve their rankings and popularity among the competitors. Each week, a Head of House, chosen by the disembodied voice of the producers, Big Brother, nominates two potential eliminees that other houseguests must vote to evict. The winner of the competition gets a $750,000 cash prize.
The social experiment of the house provides a very interesting window into contemporary society. Contestants are chosen from all walks of life and usually include archetypes representing different types and groups of people. In earlier seasons, there was far less diversity in the house and Black members were frequently outnumbered by white alliances. The introduction of a gay member resulted in homophobia from a houseguest who later became his friend. During the Iraq War, an Iraqi-American houseguest faced serious suspicion and prejudice. Later, the inclusion of the show’s first transgender member sparked tense discussions in the house.
Not only do the houseguests offer real-time discourse on societal hot topics, but issues raised on the show also spark extensive online discussion and force audiences to self-reflect. The enduring popularity of “Big Brother” largely comes from its ongoing social relevance and the renewed feeling brought to each new season with fresh houseguests and original challenges. No two seasons are ever quite the same, which keeps us coming back year after year.
The Evolution of ‘Big Brother’
What makes “Big Brother” unique is the constant monitoring of houseguests on live feeds that broadcast from cameras throughout the house. Each season of the show airs only 40 hours of curated content, but die-hard fans pour over the thousands of hours of live feeds for each season. Many of the show’s most controversial moments in seasons past didn’t make the on-air cut, but were caught by fans on the live feeds and broadcast online.
The show, as a reflection of society, has revealed plenty of ugly attitudes over the years, including racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, tribalism, and bullying. Both the show and its contestants have taken their fair share of criticism for their actions, and CBS has taken strides to address the public’s concerns.
Since 2020, the show has committed to casting 50 percent people of color and other minorities as houseguests. The positive results were immediately apparent with the first win by a Black person in the show’s 20-year history and the first Black alliance in the house because there were finally enough Black contestants to form one. Last year, Taylor Hale became the first Black woman to win the competition after 24 seasons and the first to win the America’s Favorite Houseguest award. The positive new tradition is set to continue in Season 25. The houseguests also reportedly received sensitivity training before the start of the show to prevent repeats of incidents of bigotry from previous seasons.
‘Big Brother’ Season 25
“Big Brother” Season 25 premieres on Aug. 2 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS, when a new group of houseguest hopefuls will begin their competition for the grand prize. This season has a later start than usual due to the WGA strike, which is resulting in cable networks relying on reality TV for their fall programming.
Each season of “Big Brother” has a theme that affects the choice of challenges and events throughout the season. Julie Chen Moonves shared a promotional image with the cryptic message that the image “contains many clues to the Season 25 theme.” There has been popular speculation about the theme and twist, but we’ll have to wait until Aug. 2 to know for sure.
On July 31, the 16 cast members were announced.
- America Lopez
- Blue Kim
- Bowie Jane
- Cameron Hardin
- Cory Wurtenberger
- Felicia Cannon
- Hisam Goueli
- Izzy Gleicher
- Jag Bains
- Jared Fields
- Kirsten Elwin
- Luke Valentine
- Matt Klotz
- Mecole Hayes
- Red Utley
- Reilly Smedley
Where to Watch ‘Big Brother’
If you have access to cable TV, all you have to do is tune in to CBS on Aug. 2 at 8 p.m. ET to watch the premiere live. Following the premiere, the series will air on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET, and Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET live and delayed PT, featuring the live evictions.